Making books by hand: part 2

Hi, it’s Tom again, with part 2 of my series about my new adventures in book making – and specifically about making a particular book, which I’ve named Latitude. Latitude is a photographic project I’ve been working on for the past year or so. It’s a made-object, as much as it is a collection of images, and today I’m going to talk a bit about the choices I had to make when selecting the materials which I used to produce it.

One of the unexpected creative choices I had to make for this project regarded thread. Living with a knitter I of course knew that different kinds of fibre and yarn could behave differently, but I really had no idea how tricky choosing thread might be . . . I began by trying a few types of bookbinding thread and found that I was instinctively drawn to linen. But what was then surprising was the huge variety in the quality and behaviour of different linen threads. I tried several types, weights and brands – yet whenever I found one which looked and felt right, once I started working, it might snag or shed and tangle (despite careful waxing) and I would be back to the drawing board. I continued unabashed and finally settled on a 18/3 linen thread by Somac. This moderately heavy gauge thread was ideal for the purpose I had in mind: it felt polished, but was still satisfyingly textured; the thread was robust, but it was also easy to work. Happily, it was also available in a range of pleasing colours to complement the photographs I wanted to include in Latitude, as well as the graphic decorative papers with which I wanted to bind my book.

Decorative Paper
One of the most enjoyable decisions I had to make concerned Latitude’s decorative papers. Primarily, I wanted designs which spoke to the collection of images I’d produced – bold, graphic and abstract. But I also wanted papers that conveyed the aesthetic of the made object – papers which had their own hand-printed, hand-formed feel. After much experimentation, including plain papers, marbled papers, synthetic leathers and stencil-dyed papers (Katsome-shi), I settled on two types of decorative paper – each beautiful in its own way and both suited to the aesthetic and design of the book-object.

The first type of paper with which I decorated my bound books were highly graphic with distinctive motifs drawn from early and mid twentieth-century design. Perhaps my favourite of these papers are associated with Persephone. Persephone designs were created for the independent publisher of the same name, an imprint well-known for their celebration of under-appreciated women writers. Printed with hand-mixed vegetable inks on archival uncoated matt paper, the effect of Persephone papers is strikingly graphic, but maintains a hand-printed feel.

The second paper I selected for the Latitude collection was Chiyogami. This is a hand screen printed Japanese paper with exquisite decorative motifs and lustre. The designs are inspired by the bright graphic textiles of the Edo period. Though the paper is light, almost delicate, it is surprisingly strong, even when wet with glue, and works really well to decorate the cover of the latest book I’ve made.

Photographic prints and paper
And finally, what about Latitude’s actual contents – the photographic prints the book contains?
Latitude, is a photographic exploration of landscape from what might be thought of as an unexpected angle. It is immensely important to me that these bold images look and feel their best, and I had to think very carefully about how to produce a physical image of exactly the right quality. I’ve spoken previously about the importance and creative potential of different photographic papers, in relation to my fine art prints. For Latitude I wanted a smooth, flat, bright white base on which to print my images. An accurate, clean colour reproduction was also essential – so I had paper manufacturers prepare custom color profiles for my individual printer.

An additional consideration for this project was how the paper would behave in a bookbinding context – how easily would it fold? What was the grain direction? Was it amenable to stitching? After extensive printing and re-printing, image testing, folding and stitching, I selected an archival grade heavy matt photo-paper from Marrutt. The image reproduction on this paper was smooth, rich, flat and dense. Large sheets had to be carefully cut, so that the grain aligned to the spine in a landscape format. It was also available with both sides coated for printing; enabling me to present each image alone on the page, with the details of each image included on the reverse of the opposite page.

My final decision about making Latitude concerned how I would present it. Given the bold, decorative nature of the book covers, I wanted to keep the presentation functional and simple. So I decided to make a plain, matt black envelope-style box. Made from a medium weight (300gsm) acid-free, archival grade card – this simple black box functions to shield its precious contents from the light and the elements on its journeys around the world. With just enough extra space within, for the book to be double wrapped in acid-free tissue paper, I think the finished package is satisfyingly understated, but still clearly hand made.

I’ve been working on the collection of images which make up Latitude for almost a year now, but only after I’d made all of these decisions about the materials and methods I was going to use to make the book did I actually start to draw up a short list of images, and begin to reflect upon the final contents of the collection. . .

In the last post in this series I’ll tell you more about the Latitude project, and the images that make it what it is.

Thanks for reading.